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O'Neill to offer Gillard key to Manus, Parkop seeks to stop move

PAPUA NEW GUINEA'S newly elected leader is willing to negotiate with Australia to open a detention centre for asylum seekers on Manus Island.

The Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, said it was a tragedy when boats full of people sank, pledging PNG would help Australia tackle what was a regional problem.

His comments came in a statement issued after the review headed by the former Defence chief Angus Houston called for Australia to immediately seek to open a centre on Manus Island.

Mr O'Neill said last year he was willing to reopen the centre, which last operated during the Howard era as part of the so-called Pacific Solution.

The last refugee left Manus Island in 2004 after 10 months as the sole detainee, at a cost to Australia of $250,000 a month.

The negotiations with PNG that coincided with Labor's push for a refugee swap with Malaysia last year stalled when a constitutional crisis engulfed the country. A small-scale army mutiny and a police rebellion followed a High Court decision that declared Mr O'Neill had seized power unconstitutionally.

Australia had expressed concern over the political turmoil in PNG, with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, sparking a diplomatic storm by threatening sanctions.

Asked if opening an asylum seeker centre in PNG would curb Australia's ability to pressure PNG, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said she would continue to raise concerns about political events in the country.

But she said these were ''different days'' since Mr O'Neill had managed to win recent elections.

Mr O'Neill said in a statement that the Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister, Rimbink Pato, would be in charge of talks with Australia.

He also said the Manus provincial government would be consulted so the views and concerns of the Manus people would be taken into account.

A PROMINENT Papua New Guinea politician says he will take legal action to stop Manus Island detention centre being reopened to house asylum seekers.

National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop, a member of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's coalition government, says a detention centre contradicts PNG's law and culture.

"You cannot detain people here in PNG - even if they are aliens from outer space - we cannot detain them indefinitely," Mr Parkop says.

"That's the law in PNG. It isn't in our culture to lock people up without a charge.

"So absolutely I will take legal action. I am a member of this government, but the government must obey the law."

Mr Parkop said PNG cannot change its laws to suit a "good friend" like Australia, and worried it would set a legal precedent for detaining people without charge in the 37-year-old democracy.

"I call on both governments to obey the law and ... not make a deal for conveniences sake."

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Tuesday asylum seekers could begin arriving in Nauru and PNG within a month, after her government agreed to an expert panel's recommendation to reopen detention facilities in both nations.

Ms Gillard said the defence force told her it can construct temporary facilities in both locations while the main centres are being reopened.

"That means that within a month we would hope to see people being processed in Nauru and in PNG," she told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

"That's clearly subject to the work of the recon teams that could go as early as Friday."

Mr O'Neill said in a statement on Monday he welcomed the reopening of the centre.

The Sydney Morning Herald